How The Post Office Can Stay Relevant

The United States Postal Service needs to introduce electronic mail if they want to survive. USPS Logo with @-symbol

Despite private e-mail and private delivery services, The Postal Service remains top courier. However, as electronic correspondence increasingly cuts postage revenue and smarter private distribution centers enable Fedex and others to compete on cost and services, USPS needs to adopt modern messaging paradigms if it wants to protect its business viability.

I urge John E. Potter (current Postmaster General) to realize that USPS is in a unique position to do things that no one else can, and can accomplish them thusly: sell electronic post office boxes that take regular mail.

USPS e-mail: a certified, electronic, and virtual mailbox run by USPS which can get away with doing things that neither e-mail providers nor private companies can directly compete with:

  1. Charge for Message Delivery. Credit card companies and healthcare companies, for example, need to notify you by mail of any changes to your service offering or plan. An official address that officially (as in governmentally-official) ties citizens to a mailbox. These companies are used to paying for this type of correspondence.
  2. Charge Different Rates Depending on Message Type. Credit Card offers: $1.00 a message. Not-for-profits: $0.01 a message. Et cetera.
  3. Strong-arm Government Agencies to Adopt Electronic Messaging Capabilities. Offer free message delivery for all government agencies, the cost reduction in the first year’s postage alone would likely pay for the entire implementation.
  4. Automatically discard Junk Mail. I’d pay $20/year for that.
  5. Automatic Package Redirection. Order something delivered to your e-USPS address and packages are automatically routed to the nearest facility for delivery, no matter where you move.
  6. Official Mail Segregation. Identify and differentiate government/very important mail from everything else at delivery.
  7. Certified Delivery. It can never get lost in the mail… and they can charge for delivery/opening confirmation. And you know it got to the right person.
  8. Physical Address Privacy. I know where Elvis lives.

I’d also love it if they adopted a scanned-mail service offering similar to Earth Class Mail, so my experience with my mail is the same regardless of how the initial sender sent it. Backwards compatible mail.

I’m sure you can think of other things that could be accomplished with this setup.

Inasmuch, USPS’s unique features make this proposal particularly compelling. Firstly, they are one of the few agencies explicitly authorized by The US Constitution—the country’s politics (likely) won’t let it fail. Secondly, the government and agencies rely solely on USPS to correspond with its citizens—and the government’s co-dependence on it (likely) won’t let it fail, either. Therefore, it’s permanent and environmentally-friendly, to boot.

Unless USPS can’t find a way to stop borrowing from The Treasury to pay budget deficits, we’re going to have another persistent taxpayer liability on our collective hands. Ultimately, USPS needs to take a fresh look at how it can play within modern communications paradigms.

This is my suggestion.

Deconstructing Robin Hood

Robin Hood ArrowThis world needs a new Robin Hood.

The Robin Hood you’re familiar with stole from the rich to give to the poor. But really, it sets the wrong precedent: the poor become accustomed to rescue, and the rich become irritated with a maverick whose sole mission is to bridge the wealth gap while waiting for an absent and benevolent king.

Machiavellian economics aside, this is just stupid.

The peasants have more ability than they realize, and in many cases it takes a Robin Hood-type character to shift the paradigm. But, Robin Hood himself falls short of becoming a real hero in failing to bridge the real communication and economic gap. Hood and his band of merry men do little in their activities other than to apply band-aids and irritate the wound, providing little more than hope and brief relief to a struggling population while fostering resentment in another.

What they’re missing is empowerment.

Recently, new not-for-profits (and not-just-for-profits) have begun to address these problems both domestically and abroad. These organizations don’t support impoverished people and groups with handouts, but rather makes strides to shift the paradigm and teach people how to help themselves.

Two favorites are Kiva and the Acumen Fund, both of which take capital and invest it in populations that most financial institutions won’t touch due to perceived risk. The results of their efforts have been staggering and encouraging, and I urge you to learn more about what they’re doing.

There’s also Robin Hood Foundation, which takes aims at causes of poverty, but their branding choice does what they do a little bit of disservice: you don’t want to be Robin Hood. But if not him, who?

What we really need is a new character; or, perhaps, a new character metaphor. Robin Hood just isn’t sufficient or sustainable, nor can this type of change be appropriately epitomized by just one man or woman.

I’m open to suggestions.

Google's Oil Slick

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Is Google really an Evil capitalist? Maybe not, but they’re sending a mixed message. 

Google’s GMail, Search, Calendar, Doc, etc. are slick for a reason: they wants you to use their free products so they can show you more ads and generate more revenue. However, Google’s bread-and-butter product, AdWords, resembles a 1990’s back-end business app coded in Oracle. It must be purposeful: it makes them more money.

If you haven’t played with adwords, I suggest you try it. Visit 404-page? Right. Try again without the trailing slash. 

The first thing you’ll notice is that your Google login doesn’t work. The systems aren’t integrated. Go ahead and set up a new account (and make sure you use an acceptable password… my usual Google Account password is too short).

Great! You’re in. Buying ads for keywords is easy. Just search some keywords, set some bids for a top-3 spot, click continue, click continue again, make sure you accept the terms, click continue, click continue, and you’re good to go! 

Let’s track how you’re doing. Login to Analytics. Set up the tracking code on your website, and *BAM*, you’re tracking your pageviews. (Now, wait a few days for results to populate.)

(Just don’t forget to link your Analytics account to your AdWords account– I’m still not sure how I did it or if it’s working.) 

So, you go back to AdWords. Oh, were you logged in with an account (your Google Account, not your Google AdWords account) that already has an AdSense account? Don’t worry, Google will let you know that you probably wanted AdSense, and forget to give you the option of logging out or linking to your AdWords account. So, browse to, sign out, and get back to AdSense. (Remember to omit the last slash.)

The first thing you’ll notice is that your convergence goals aren’t tracking. That’s because you didn’t put in the convergence tracking code into your website. Now, wait a few more days. Note: this is separate code from the Analytics tracking. Also note: You’re still not exactly sure how or if your Analytics and AdWords accounts are linked.

Alright! So we’re up and running. You’re getting visitors, they’re converging, and you’ve started tracking which keywords work and which ones don’t. Now, scroll through the 1,000 keywords you’ve purchased and start weeding out the bad ones. … One at a time… It might take all night, but it’s worth it. Get those convergence rates up and start a bidding war on those valuable keywords.

Ultimately, most buyers of AdWords won’t get that far. It’s not in Google’s interest. They want most people to be over-bidding and spending less time with the system, optimizing their AdWord purchases. But, given Google’s proven ability to create slick, well-received apps, this tactic feels borderline evil.